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Your Questions Answered! UWDP Week 3 Mailbag

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More questions. Suckers.

UW suspended cornerback Marcus Peters
UW suspended cornerback Marcus Peters
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Mail time!

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JHIK asks: Hey this feature is pretty cool guys thanks for the feedback opportunity. My question or theory is this:
With the evolution of the spread offense, the little guys have a chance to even up the skill and talent on the field. Comparable to what happened w/ the 3 pt shot in college basketball, we are starting to see the same thing happen in football. And that is parity across the board, isn't that good for college athletics? More and more you see middle tier teams pushing the big guys to the limit and even pulling upsets, just like basketball these days. I think it's good for the long term outlook for football. What's your view?

UWDP: JHIK.  Thanks for the feedback.  I'm glad that you enjoy this feature.  As long as we keep getting questions, we'll keep putting up answers (along with the occasional clever gif or meme.

I think if you go back and trace to its roots the various spread concepts that have permeated into major college football programs, I think that there is little doubt that you'll find that the drivers behind the original innovations are largely oriented around the concept of "competing with Goliath", particularly on the high school level.  In this way, football operates just like business and military when it comes to strategy development:  you honestly assess the terrain (in the case of football, the rulebook), the strengths/liabilities of your opponents and the strengths/liabilities of your own team.  Then you come up with a plan that maximizes your success opportunity.

The various offshoots of spread principles absolutely are based on balancing out the advantages that more established competitors often had in size and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball.  However, these same principles have now infiltrated those programs that also enjoy size / athleticism advantages and have clearly changed the nature of the game at just about every level.  I think it has clearly changed the game by increasing offensive outputs and making more games seem like track meets than wrestling matches.  Whether or not you think that this is "good for the game" is up to personal interpretation.  However, I think that the conclusion reached that it enables smaller schools to compete is fair to make.

What is more interesting is to try to guess what the next wave of innovations will be.  I think that we are seeing a little of it with the adoption of more of these hybrid style defenses that put more athletes on the field in order to maximize versatility.  I think that the use of more statistical methods to drive decisions like when to punt and when to go for two will be part of those innovations.  Finally, I can't help but to think that role of the QB will continue to evolve as a "ball-in-space" player.  The development of better athletes who have more development and training as a hybrid QB before they get to college will help teams deal with the greater exposure these types of QBs encounter by improving depth and will shorten their learning curves when they arrive on campus.


OldDawgie asks: Do the coaches teach the DBS to knocked down passes on 4th downs or are they always taught to tip them up in case another defender may catch them?

UWDP: Your question no doubt is rooted in a common observation that a lot of Huskies seemed like that they were in position to make plays on the ball last weekend only to watch an EWU receiver come down with a clean reception or, even worse, a spectacular TD grab.  You might also be wondering how it is that our opponents have been so lucky in catching tipped passes the last few weeks.

I can't speak to what is taught in practice every week.  Given the focus on turnover generation that we've heard about all offseason, I have to imagine that tipping passes is something that is getting emphasized.  That said, I think that at this stage of development, the focus is less about what to do when you get your fingers on a thrown ball and more about simply defending the receiver.  The young Husky DBs will meet expectations if they continue to alter receiver routes, stay close on deep routes and ultimately get their hands on balls thrown their way.  Interestingly enough, the Huskies actually are tied for first in the PAC in passes break ups with 10, including six PBUs versus EWU.  However, that Secondary has generated zero interceptions to date, which seems like an aberration considering all of those PBUs.  The young Pups just haven't started making plays yet, despite often being in position to do so.


ElvisLovesUW asks: Is Vita Vea redshirting? Didn't see him listed for playing this week.

UWDP: The Coaching Staff hasn't really had to commit to redshirting or not any player with only two weeks in the books.  So, without them sharing their strategies proactively (which wouldn't serve much purpose), it is hard to know exactly who has been firmly committed to the redshirt route for 2014.  I will say that the staff hasn't been quite as aggressive in playing true freshman as we may have been led to believe, especially along the defensive line.  By my count, we've seen the following true frosh have the redshirts burned:

  • Budda Baker
  • Tristain Vizcaino
  • Darren Gardenhire
  • Dante Pettis
  • Will Dissly
  • Sidney Jones
  • Naijiel Hale
  • Braden Lenius

I might be missing one in there.  Regardless, you will note that each of the guys played with perhaps the exception of Dissly is a guy who plays in a position of severe depth challenges.  It would seem to indicate that, at least so far, the coaching staff is actually taking as conservative approach to handling their true freshman as one could hope for given some of the holes in the roster.  How that applies to Vea is still to be determined.  However, I'd venture a guess that keeping the redshirt on both him and fellow DT Greg Gaines is still a hope.


RockDawg asks: In reviewing the game, did Kikaha ever "blitz" while out in the slot cover position?

UWDP: I can't recall any specific instances where Kikaha blitzed after taking step backs in coverage.  However, I must admit that I haven't watched the film on this game to confirm that.  Incidentally, if you haven't read Darin Johnson's excellent analysis on our defensive play breakdown from last week, make sure that you check it out.

There has been a tremendous amount of consternation in the 'Pound this week about Kikaha being taken out of pass rush situations to "cover receivers".  While I get that argument (and I don't totally disagree), I think that the big issue that fans aren't giving enough appreciation to is the fact that the Huskies are trying to develop a certain level of unpredictability when it comes to where the rush is going to come from.  The whole point of putting a guy like Kikaha in the BUCK is to create offensive confusion.  If they over-commit to controlling his pass rush while, in fact, the pressure comes from the other side on any one play, the UW creates an advantage.  Having Kikaha sometimes play in coverage is less about him being a good cover guy and more about creating more opportunities for him to have an advantage in other plays where he does pass rush.

The bigger question relates to who ought to be on the field at the same time.  We saw the D appear to be more effective when Cory Littleton and Hau'oli Kikaha were on the field at the same time at the expense of one of the Hudson twins taking a breather.  It will be interesting to see if the Huskies attribute that to better chemistry or if they conclude that this had more to do with other factors last week.  Time will tell.


GSL asks: The Cam Cleeland interview was very cool. Do former Huskies often identify themselves on this blog and participate in our comments?

UWDP: I'm not well-connected with former athletes at UW, so I'm not sure that I am in the best position to answer that question.  However, I've had about a dozen instances of people connected to the program identify themselves to me over the course of the past few years including members of the media covering the team, coaches, family members of coaches, former players and family members of current players.  I think it is fair to say that the answer to your question is "yes".

I do hope to do more former player interviews, but I'm not really aggressive about "efforting" those.  We don't aspire to be a news organization here and I am not eager to acquire a reputation as an outlet that harasses former athletes.  We will continue to be opportunistic when we can just as we were with Cam.  Perhaps other personalities around the program will see this interview and proactively contact us.  Who knows?

As for Cam, I hope that everybody appreciated the tone of the interview.  We really wanted to balance the football talk with some insights into his life.  He was super-honest and forthcoming about things and I really enjoyed the interaction.  If you also enjoyed it, give him a follow on Twitter (@CamCleeland).


PurpleBoy asks: Long time reader, never posted. Thanks for the mailbag option. I know you had Cyler as POG, but I didn't really see him stand out as a passer. Is the QB competition still going on? If so, what are the odds that Troy will get some PT?

UWDP: If you listen to the words coming from the podium at Montlake, then you well know that the competition "never stops".  If you are asking me whether or not that Cyler Miles took definitive control of the job with his showing against EWU, I would say "probably not".

However, practically speaking, I do have to believe that the competition has effectively ended.  Reading between the lines, it is relatively clear that the staff feels that Cyler has the most control of the huddle and the best combination of physical skills and playbook knowledge to maximize the opportunity to win.

The position that Troy Williams occupies in the depth is an interesting one that probably is not fully settled.  While we have no tangible evidence to suggest that he has jumped Jeff Lindquist on the depth chart, it does seem like that, at minimum, he is still driving a fierce competition for the number two position.  It wouldn't shock me to see him take that job at some point in the season.


Blitzed asks: Softy tweeted that Chris Petersen is shutting down media access to practices. Why is that? Will that affect the Dawg Pound coverage?

UWDP: I also received notice from the University of Washington Athletic Department that press access to football practice was effectively cancelled.  The memo was interesting in that it contained almost no details and simply asked that we ensure that we help to inform everybody who might be affected by the change in policy.  Thus, I can't answer the "why" question.

However, there are two things to note here.  First, this isn't a really major change.  The press (of which the 'Pound is NOT included per the UW) was already restricted to only the first 20 minutes of practice on Monday.  Thus, I don't really seeing coverage changing that much.  Second, the media will still have access to players and coaches after practice for interviews and the like.

I don't mind speculating on the "why" question as long as everybody takes it with a healthy grain of salt.  There are three plausible explanations that make sense to me.  The first is simply a logistics issue.  Coordinating access and then managing it takes people, time and a little money.  The staff may have simply felt that such effort was not worth it after trying it for a few weeks.

The second possibility is that the coaches want to enhance the privacy of the program.  This could be to shield players from scrutiny over injury, to reduce their distractions or to hide any changes to the playbook that many be in the process of getting installed.

The final possibility could be related to staff displeasure over how the media has persisted in pursuing stories that they do not wish to comment on - the latest example being the Marcus Peters suspension.  This theory seems the most plausible to me given the fact that Petersen has always been a very private coach and that he, no doubt, has only been tolerating the level of access that the Seattle media has "enjoyed" at the urging of the athletic department.  I suspect that there was a "we'll try it and see how it goes" deal reached with the coaches pre-season and, now that we are a few weeks into it, that plan probably hasn't worked out to Coach Pete's satisfaction.  It would appear that he has reverted to the standard policy that he had in Boise.

This is increasingly becoming a standard practice across colleges in the U.S.  While it may be irritating to fans, it is probably for the better when it comes to not only managing the football aspect of it, but also managing the student-athlete aspect of it.